Bills: Emergency Response Fund Bill 2019, Emergency Response Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 - Second Reading

17 October 2019

Senator Patrick: I, of course, endorse the comments my colleague Senator Griff made to the chamber. I did want to expand on a couple of things. The first thing I'd like to do is talk about the abolishment of the education fund. As Senator Griff suggested, we have some grave concerns about the state of our vocational training system here in Australia. We would have hoped that there would have been more money allocated to education so that the split between the emergency fund and education was better proportioned. So I feel as though I do have to say something here in relation to the abolishment of this fund.

I note that Senator Carr is in London at this point in time, with the leave of the chamber. Senator Carr is a gentleman, in my view. He's a good man. He's old school. He's a man you can take on his word. He has been a great supporter of manufacturing, and his support for education has been strong and enduring. I want to make sure that the chamber is aware of his position. I do so because I know how strongly he feels about it. I know how strongly he feels about it because he wrote to me. Not only has he written to me twice this week, he called me from London at some ungodly hour of the morning. So I think it's proper that I at least let his views be known. In fact, he did put something out into the media recently, and I'll just read from that article. He wrote:

The Educational Investment Fund was created by the former Labor government in 2008. To date it has funded the development of research infrastructure and provided for the refurbishment of universities and TAFE colleges through 71 projects worth $7bn in new investment.

The EIF has lain dormant since the election of the Abbott government. Coalition governments twice have tried to abolish it, without success.

But now, for the third time, the Morrison government wants to shut down the EIF and transfer its $4bn balance to a new emergency response fund, no doubt calculating it can take advantage of high public awareness of recent natural disasters in Queensland and NSW.

The need to fund emergency responses properly is not disputed. This does not mean, however, that the right way to do it is to grab whatever pot of cash lies conveniently to hand, especially when it means punishing universities that are so vital to the economies and resilience of regional Australia. Raiding the EIF is the fiscal equivalent of raiding a piggy bank without thought for how its owner will be deprived by the loss of its contents.

That was Senator Carr. I would also like to seek leave of the chamber to table a letter that Senator Carr wrote to me on this topic, again just so his views are known.

Leave granted.

Senator Gallagher: He didn't send it to me.

Senator Patrick: Well, I'm not sure why he didn't send it to you, Senator Gallagher, but he was clearly concerned. I think it's appropriate to make sure his views are represented. I'm not even sure, when we divide on this, whether Senator Carr might have crossed the floor on it. The fact that he rang me twice in one week at 2 am or 4 am his time tells me he cares about this quite a lot, because he doesn't ring me often.

I'd like to go now to a point. We are abolishing an education fund for good purpose. I want to talk about what Senator Waters said when she talked about the oil and gas industry. Basically she said we have two noble aims here. I think she's correct. I think most people would agree she's correct. I want to go to her point about oil and gas not bearing the load. Of course, in the oil and gas industry, there are two tax elements. We have both the company tax and PRRT. I want to advise the chamber that, in terms of corporate tax—a bit of a shocker really—according to tax transparency data, over four years ExxonMobil earned $33 billion in revenue and—

Senator Whish-Wilson: Bugger all! Sweet bugger all!

Senator Patrick: Sorry, you're wrong, Senator Whish-Wilson. I won't repeat the terms you are saying, but it's not nothing. There was zero tax paid in that time. That's not a good return for the taxpayer. Origin Energy earned $51 billion and paid about $108 million in tax—that's over four years. Revenue for Shell was $52 billion and they paid $1.1 billion in tax. If I go to figures for 2016-17, the three large entities of ExxonMobil Australia, Chevron Australia Holdings and ConocoPhillips Australia Gas Holdings had a combined turnover of $11.6 billion and they paid—let's guess; maybe Senator Whish-Wilson would like to interject how much corporate tax they paid.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Bugger all!

Senator Patrick: It was zero. In terms of PRRT across these three entities, again, Senator Whish-Wilson, maybe you can interject and tell me how much tax they might have payed.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Sweet bugger all!

Senator Patrick: Zero is the answer. Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. They get to take our finite resources—they extract it and export it—and Australians get pretty much nothing in return. Compare that to what happens with Equinor in Norway. They are a Norwegian state-owned company. In 2018, Equinor paid $22 billion into consolidated revenue. They also paid environmental taxes and fees of about $1 billion. And, because it's a state-owned company, the dividend Equinor paid to the Norwegian government was about $3 billion, which is a huge amount of money. This dwarfs the quantum being talked about in this chamber today.

If we had a proper tax arrangement in respect of oil and gas, we wouldn't be having this debate about how we split education and how we split emergency relief funding, because we would be swimming in money. The finance minister is sitting there; he's listening intently. I say: if Senator Cormann brings any legislation to this chamber that seeks to get more of what Australians deserve from their oil and gas, I will happily co-sponsor that. That's one of the problems we have. We are mucking around, playing around, moving money around, moving a very small pie around. I want a bigger pie. I want a tastier pie. While we spin our wheels while shifting around the size of the very small pie that we have, we are missing out on opportunity. We could have had both, is my point.

The new emergency fund is $150 million going to disaster recovery work. I welcome what Labor has put forward—not the quantum but the idea that $50 million will be put to preventative measures in respect of emergency funding. That is a good idea. Once again, I'm disappointed at the quantum, and I will be asking at the committee stage how it is that that money for the pre-emptive work will be distributed. You heard my colleague Senator Griff talking about the need for equity in respect of that.

Then we move to the $50 million to upgrade TAFE facilities. This is the area where Labor should be disappointed. I am happy to invite Senator Gallagher to crossbench negotiating school, because she desperately needs it. Think about the fact that a few months ago Senator Lambie secured $144 billion, just for Tasmania. In listening to Centre Alliance, the government is restructuring the oil and gas market—particularly the gas market—here in Australia, which is something that will benefit people on Newstart, retirees and people who are employed in jobs. It will also help businesses, small and large. In this $4 billion discussion, you managed to squeeze out $50 million. So, free crossbench negotiation training for you. If you want to pick up the phone, I know you've got—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Griff): Senator Patrick, could you please address your comments to the chair?

Senator Patrick: Through you, Chair, I advise that I am open to having Senator Gallagher call to get some assistance in how to properly get a good outcome in respect of dividing up pies, because we didn't get one here.

Senator Gallagher: You got nothing.

Senator Patrick: Well, I'm hoping that South Australia will get something out of this. We will be supporting Labor's amendments because it's the least of two bad outcomes. But don't for a moment think that the quantum is wrong. There is a greater need in education than the $50 million that you have suggested. Senator Griff and I will certainly be advocating strongly to government to make sure much of that goes to SA, or as much as is properly distributed. We will be supporting Labor's amendments on this, but we are disappointed in the quantum that is going to education. It could have been much more, and for that we are disappointed.

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